To Your Health
February, 2008 (Vol. 02, Issue 02)
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Slowing Down Fast Food

By Dr. Claudia Anrig

It's 6 o'clock and you just picked up the kids from soccer practice, or perhaps you just got off work and picked them up from day care. Regardless, you're running late and you know there's nothing prepared for dinner. The kids are asking for fast food again and perhaps you're thinking, "What's the harm?"

What's the Harm?

The American Psychological Association has recognized that there is more to our obesity problem than just genes or lack of exercise. In a recent article, Dr. Kelly Brownell said that the problem isn't so much a lack of self-control as it is a "toxic food environment." Every street corner has an option for fast food and none of them is healthy. Obviously we know this, but the convenience outweighs a critical concern for our daily dietary needs being met.

Of course, Brownell acknowledges that genes and self-control play a role in obesity, diabetes and the myriad of other health problems that result from unhealthy eating habits. But in his view, both face a losing battle against the overabundance and availability of bad or unhealthy food choices.

A fast food worker hands two bags of food to a customer at a drive-thru window. - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark Brownell is particularly concerned about the advertising allowed for fast-food restaurants. Joe Camel has been taken off billboards because of his obvious negative influence on our children, but the fast-food industry has targeted their commercials toward children and their ability to influence the buying habits of their parents.

Trans Fats

"If fast food is bad, then trans fat is evil," writes Guto Harri in a recent article from the BBC News. Trans fats increase the damaging cholesterol content of a meal, clog arteries and increase the risk of heart attack. Partially hydrogenated vegetable oils or trans fats:

  • turn oily foods into semi-solid foods (Oreo cookie filling, etc.);
  • extend the shelf life of products;
  • are put in pastries, margarine and fast foods; and
  • have no nutritional benefit.

A fast food cheeseburger. - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark Obviously, the growing concern about premature death and rising obesity rates has made trans fats a major target. It has been determined that even a small reduction in the daily consumption of trans fats can significantly cut the risk of heart disease and can help lower the levels of "bad" cholesterol.

This concern has been made known to all major fast-food chains and yet only a few have done something about it. Wendy's quit using cooking oil containing trans fats in the summer of 2006 and in April 2007, all Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants ceased use of trans fats. McDonald's promised to reduce trans fats in its products more than four years ago and "aims to roll out a new cooking oil" this year. Still, trans fats aren't the end of the fast-food story.